The Sopranos season four marks a turning point in a number of ways. Not only are we about halfway through the series, but we suddenly find ourselves living in a world with an entirely new normal after September 11, 2001. As the first season to premiere after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, season four helps illustrate the reality that we’re all just one tragedy away from our own new normal. With that said, here are some more thoughts on The Sopranos and September 11 in the context of the season four premiere, “For All Debts Public and Private.”
"Let me tell you something, or you can watch the news: Everything comes to an end."
First, “For All Debts Public & Private,” premiering on September 15, 2002, features Tony walking down the driveway to the tune of “World Destruction” by Time Zone. Speaking of world destruction, it was just one year earlier that terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Flight 93, killing nearly 3,000 and traumatizing many thousands more. 9/11 also sparked a massive expansion of government surveillance and made preventing another terrorist attack law enforcement’s top priority (I’ll dive more into that part in a separate post).
Not surprisingly, death and destruction also weighed heavily on Carmela Soprano’s mind. How would she and the kids survive if something were to happen to Tony? Adding to her worry, Carmela runs into Angie Bonpensiero at the supermarket handing out free Polish sausage. You can bet at that moment Carm is picturing herself doing the very same thing if Tony’s ever out of the picture. By the way, it always seems to come back to that sausage, huh? “How many pounds, hot or sweet?”
"You never know, I could be on the [Sopranos] endangered species list."
But it’s not just Carmela coming to grips with mortality in For All Debts Public and Private. Christopher Moltisanti refers to it as the “endangered species list” in this episode. Regarding this particular endangered species list, what is it exactly that threatens the survival of those on it? Well, that depends.
For example, as Tony demonstrates through retired Detective Barry Haydu, you may be an endangered species from killing a well-known DiMeo Family soldier. On the other hand, you may just not be useful anymore. What do I think?
"I started the process of bonding him to me inseparably."
Truthfully, I think Barry Haydu was a cop Tony knew who was no longer useful once he retired. So when Christopher expresses his irritation with Tony, Tony decides it’s time to bond Christopher to him “inseparably.” What is this “bonding” activity, exactly? It’s sitting at a stop light, pointing to a guy celebrating his retirement, and telling Christopher that guy killed his father. Why do I not take this at face value or believe that Haydu actually killed Dickie Moltisanti?
Chiefly, when Christopher follows up to confirm Haydu’s really the guy who killed his father, Tony’s nonchalant response really sets off an alarm for me.
"No, you can't tell from here...maybe...yeah, probably."
Granted, we’re talking about human lives here, so it’s disturbing how easy it seems to be for Tony to toss a life aside in an effort to manipulate another. Even Christopher concedes that regardless of what Haydu did or didn’t do, someone (Tony) wants him dead. Though I guess I shouldn’t be shocked. As far as value, we know the currency that matters most on The Sopranos is the one backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. government.
Pick Your Poison Currency
Actually, I can’t say that money is the only valuable currency to the DiMeo family. They also have their separate individual currencies, like food for Tony or heroin for Christopher. In fact, For All Debts Public and Private features a powerful scene transition showing Christopher self-medicating with Heroin and Tony doing the same with ice cream. Frankly, during the start of this post-9/11 era, I can imagine a whole lot of people developing similar coping mechanisms as they seek to numb themselves to tragedy.
Identity: We all have one! (or more)
In addition, “For All Debts Public & Private” features the all-too-familiar Sopranos topic of identity. Here, FBI Agent Deborah Ciccerone navigates her literal multiple identities as she goes undercover getting close to Adriana La Cerva. While law enforcement going undercover isn’t anything new, it’s fascinating to watch Deborah literally go in one door as an FBI Agent and come out the other as Danielle Ciccolella, personal shopper From Whippany.
In fact, Deborah/Danielle reminds me a little of the Tony Soprano/Kevin Finnerty dynamic, except it’s all playing out in real life. Though her words for Adriana in the FBI office were strikingly cold (“Chances are you and Christopher will just disappear”), I often wonder if Deborah didn’t feel some genuine connection with Ade. Either way, I guess “it’s just business,” as Tony likes to say.
Furthermore, certain reoccuring Sopranos symbols make an appearance in the season four premiere. For example, “those ducks.” They weren’t in the pool, but I can imagine Tony’s thinking of them just the same. Besides ducks, we see a fish on the wall in Barry Haydu’s house, along with “My Rifle, My Pony, and Me.” “Horse” is also a nickname for heroin.
Conclusion & Other Episode Favorites
To conclude, as the first episode to premiere after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, The Sopranos season four premiere, “For All Debts Public & Private,” introduces us to a world that’s very different from the one that existed in seasons 1-3. We’ll see this play out more and more throughout season four and the remainder of the show.
Nevertheless, in spite of everything, we can’t forget to laugh. So, a word to the wise: “A don doesn’t wear shorts.” And here are some of my other favorite “For All Debts Public and Private” miscellaneous scenes:
- When Albert Barese repeats Tony’s words: “It petered out. It died on the vine.”
- When Bobby Bacala goes into his line of questioning with Tony about Quasimodo and Nostradamus.
- When Tony, Sil, and Christopher leave the Bing to walk over to the “You’re supposed to be earners” meeting, the cameras focus on a spot on the ground that reminds me of where Tracee died.
- Paulie’s “Leave that! Don’t touch that, my program’s coming on!” (I have the same reaction when it comes to The Sopranos).
- When Junior says “What is this, Mother-May-I?”
Final Thought - Let's Connect!
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on “For All Debts Public and Private” and how it fits into the larger Sopranos narrative for you. Be sure to connect online and subscribe below.